High School Football

Pasco Bulldogs believe second year under new football coach will bring big turnaround

Hear about the strengths of Pasco football this season

Pasco coach Leon Wright-Jackson talks about the strength of his team and players to keep and eye out for this season.
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Pasco coach Leon Wright-Jackson talks about the strength of his team and players to keep and eye out for this season.

The Pasco Bulldogs football players have had one full season under their belts playing for head coach Leon Wright-Jackson.

They know now, more than ever, what to expect for this 2019 season.

“Last year was kind of a shock for them,” said Wright-Jackson. “We had set the bar higher for them.”

That bar is even higher this season.

Granted, the Bulldogs went 1-9 last season. But a full year with Wright-Jackson at the helm has helped improve things in so many areas — namely, in the weight room.

“I’ve coached around here for a long time,” he said. “There might have been 10 guys that would come into the weight room in the offseason back then. This summer, we had 40 to 50 guys.”

In reality, the Bulldogs could have just as easily been 4-6 last season, as they lost games by 7 points or less to Kennewick, Walla Walla and University.“

They have a chip on their shoulder,” said Wright-Jackson of his players.

He said the turning point last year was when his players saw that Kennewick had beaten Hermiston. The Lions had barely beaten the Bulldogs 7-0.

“It showed them that we could play with the best,” he said.

He expects that to be the case this season.

“I want somebody to overlook us this year,” said Wright-Jackson.

Five things to know about the Pasco Bulldogs

1. It all starts with Armani Reyes. The second-year starting quarterback has put on some muscle, standing 6-feet tall and weighing 190 pounds. Last season, Reyes passed for 1,102 yards and 8 TDs.

“He’s learning his leadership role,” said Wright-Jackson. “If you’re a quarterback, you gotta lead. Reyes will take control of offensive drills in practice.”

2. The junior class brings a lot. This year’s junior class opened some eyes two years ago when they were freshmen, going undefeated in the Mid-Columbia Conference. Last year, the JV team and freshman team each won three games. So it’s safe to say these undergrads have their own expectations.

“Some fell off (the roster), and that’s going to happen,” said Wright-Jackson. “That’s life. But they don’t accept the losing. They are now the vocal guys. Our seniors lead by example. The senior guys are stepping up to the challenge. The juniors are bringing out the best in them.”

3. Speed might be the team’s strength. “Our skill guys are pretty talented,” said Wright-Jackson. “They’re coming together.”

Guys like junior wide receivers Des Licon, Alex DeLeon and Traeton Mitchell (who is a cousin of former Kennewick High standouts Leilani and Robbie Mitchell) will be the beneficiaries of Reyes’ throws.

And while senior Sergio Avina will provide the team with rushing yards at running back, Wright-Jackson knows where his bread is buttered with this offense.

“I’m sticking with my island roots,” said the former University of Hawaii running back. “We’re gonna sling it. When I was there, I’d say, ‘Coach (June) Jones, give me the ball. Give me the ball.’ But we had a record-setting quarterback, and I saw what that offense can do.”

The Bulldogs coaching staff has been working with the offensive line, trying to give Reyes enough time to find the right receiver in the right situation.

4. Don’t expect the Bulldogs defense to sit back and react. No. Expect some proactivity.

“We’re gonna bring a lot of stuff,” said Wright-Jackson. “That’s all I’m gonna say. Coach (Joe) Emerson and Coach (Jamelle) Juneau have brought a lot of things to this defense. The key will be the guys up front – seniors Damian Silva, Nick Gutierrez and Owen Bintorio (a first-team Mid-Columbia Conference third baseman this past spring) providing the pressure.

Those same receivers a few paragraphs above will also anchor the secondary.

5. The young coaching staff brings a lot of positive energy. Wright-Jackson has a relatively young coaching staff.

“And we have a lot of volunteers on this staff,” he said. That includes former Tri-Cities Fever players Rudell Crim, Keithon Fleming and Brandon Rankin, who made the Tri-Cities their home after their playing days were over. They’ve helped inspire a younger generation of football players, who have a chip on their shoulders this season.

“I’ll be a happy man if I see the effort,” said Wright-Jackson. “That’s all I care about. To have them fight tooth and nail, and they each can walk off the field at the end of the game and say ‘I gave everything I got.’”

Jeff Morrow is the former sports editor at the Herald.

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